Assam Cong. seeks referendum on citizenship Bill

Renewed stir:People protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Guwahati on Monday.APAnupam Nath  

A divided Congress in Assam has sought a referendum on the “controversial” Citizenship (Amendment) Bill as the Joint Parliamentary Committee ended its three-day hearing in the State on Wednesday.

Organisations batting for rights of the indigenous people are opposed to the Bill that the BJP government had introduced on July 19, 2016 to grant citizenship to non-Muslim minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan fleeing religious persecution.

“We want a referendum on the issue,” former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said. His “public vote” suggestion coincided with a signature campaign against the Bill launched by the Asom Sahitya Sabha, an influential opinion-shaping literary body.

“The BJP came to power in Assam on the promise of protecting jaati-maati-bheti [indigenous communities-land-foundation]. This Bill bodes ill for the people of Assam besides threatening to lit a communal fire,” Mr. Gogoi said.

Divided by valley

While the Congress in largely Assamese-speaking Brahmaputra Valley opposed the Bill, the party’s unit in the Bengali-speaking Barak Valley in southern Assam supported it. The Congress in Barak Valley was among 255 organisations that met the 16-member JPC.

Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha, Congress MLA from southern Assam’s Karimganj district, said citizenship should not be denied to anyone figuring in the 2014 electoral rolls even if his or her nationality is in doubt. Former Congress Minister Gautam Roy, supporting the Bill, took the middle path. “The migrants should be distributed across India and Assam should not be made to bear their burden,” he said.